MOSCOW — Russia’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday that LGBTQ activists should be designated as extremists, a move that representatives of gay and transgender people fear will lead to arrests and prosecutions.
A Reuters reporter in court heard him announce that he had approved a Justice Department request to recognize what he called “the international LGBT social movement” as extremist and ban its activities.
The move comes amid a series of growing restrictions in Russia on expressions of sexual orientation and gender identity, including laws banning the promotion of “non-traditional” sexual relationships and prohibiting changes of a legal or medical nature.
President Vladimir Putin, who is expected to soon announce he will seek another six-year term in March, has long sought to promote an image of Russia as a guardian of traditional moral values, in contrast to a decadent West.
In a speech last year, he said the West was free to adopt “rather strange trends, in my opinion, like gender scores and gay parades,” but that it had not the right to impose them on other countries.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters before the court’s decision was announced that the Kremlin was “not following” the case and making no comments on it.
The Supreme Court took around five hours to deliver its decision, after opening its session at 10 a.m. (0700 GMT). The proceedings were closed to the media, but journalists were allowed to witness the decision.
LGBTQ activists saw the move as inevitable after the Justice Department’s Nov. 17 request, which claimed — without giving examples — that “various signs and manifestations of extremist orientation, including incitement to social discord and religious” had been identified in the report. activities of the LGBTQ movement in Russia.
“Of course it is very alarming, and I don’t remember the threat ever being so serious and real,” Alexei Sergeyev, an LGBTQ activist from St. Petersburg, told Reuters TV in an interview early month.
More than 100 groups are already banned in Russia because they are considered “extremist.” Previous registrations, for example those of the religious movement Jehovah’s Witnesses and organizations linked to opponent Alexei Navalny, served as a prelude to arrests.
Sergeyev said activities such as psychological and legal support, or even “meetings where you can just sit and drink tea,” would be driven underground, depriving many LGBTQ people of support.
“They will either commit suicide, or they will simply find themselves in a terrible state: their life will be shortened and their health will deteriorate, they will drink and smoke more, and so on, trying to somehow escape to this reality. »